3 Questions to Ask Your Sleep Dentist
Many of my patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea [OSA] are surprised to learn that a dentist may be able to help them. The patient may have tried CPAP, and after a few sessions with the device, decided to give up. That’s not good! That means they’ve stopped treating a potentially lethal condition … just because they thought there were no other options to CPAP.
For those patients who need an alternate treatment, a dentist can make an oral appliance to wear at night. This appliance, which slips into your mouth like a retainer, opens up your airway, allowing you to breathe and get a better night’s sleep. However, OSA treatment is not as simple as handing out mouthguards and sending patients on their way. And if a dentist is pretending it is, well, it’s probably best to ask your doctor to recommend a different dentist, one who recognizes OSA for the serious medical condition that it is.
Here are three things you should look for in a dentist who claims to treat OSA.
Do they have proper training?
In order to treat OSA, a dentist needs to have completed advanced training in the screening of OSA, fitting and adjusting appliances and managing side effects. (Yes: like with any medical treatment, there can be side effects). The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine [AADSM] is the organization that oversees the standards of dentists treating OSA. They partner with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine [AASM], the physicians who treat sleep conditions.
A dentist who receives optimal training will be recognized as an AADSM qualified dentist. With even more advanced training, they can be board certified in dental sleep medicine. AADSM board certification is the highest credential that a sleep dentist can obtain. While there are other organizations that offer certifications, the AADSM is the official standard for dental sleep medicine training.
Do they have your best health in mind?
Many dentists who treat OSA think that an oral appliance is the only and best option for their patients. Unfortunately, this mindset can be harmful to the patient. CPAP is the gold standard for treating OSA. That’s why we always encourage our patients to try CPAP first because that could be what is best for them. When it is properly used, patients see excellent results.
However, getting patients to properly use this therapy can be challenging. Some studies show that more than 80% of patients do not wear their CPAP. For these patients, a sleep dentist can play a critical role in managing their OSA. Because they have a higher compliance rate than CPAP therapy, oral appliances can be just as effective. Even sleep physicians recommend patients be treated with oral appliances when they are unsuccessful with CPAP. In fact, sometimes the best treatment may be a combination of your CPAP and oral appliance.
Do they work collaboratively with your physician?
The most effective OSA treatment is collaborative. OSA is a life-threatening medical condition, and it needs to be treated as such. That’s why a good sleep dentist will always rely on her relationship with a physician throughout the entire course of treating OSA.
Recognizing that OSA is a medical condition is essential. Only a physician can diagnose this condition, and only a physician can prescribe a sleep test for this diagnosis. If a dentist offers to give you a home sleep test and have a doctor read it to get a diagnosis, be very wary. A physician should be evaluating you first because he or she may have other concerns for your health that a home sleep test will not pick up on.
After a physician orders a test and gives you a diagnosis, a dentist may be looped into the conversation. You should know that a sleep dentist’s work goes far beyond just making a patient an oral appliance. It’s my role to make sure your physician is aware of your progress. That’s why I am routinely in contact with the diagnosing physician to let them know how the patient is doing with treatment, if adjustments need to be made, and what follow-up is necessary.
If the answer to anyone of these three questions is “No,” then I recommend you find a different sleep dentist. OSA is a potentially life-threatening medical condition. Successful treatment depends upon collaboration between your physician and your dentist.